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Comparing Classical Vs. Modern Liberalism Essay

1673 words - 7 pages

Typically Liberalism can be categorized into two different strands, Classical and Modern (yet some thinkers advocate a third strand that is referred to as Neo-Liberalism), each characterized by their differing and to some extent unavoidably overlapping attitudes regarding the theory behind the ideology and how it should be put into practice. Prior to examining how these relate to one another and before making any comparisons, it is important to give a definition, as best as possible, of Liberalism as a concept.

Liberalism is an ideology and due to the changing views of historical persons, who have each viewed themselves to be Liberals, is difficult to define precisely. There are five agreed defining tenants of Liberalism. The most important of these, percolating through the ideology, is the ‘Importance of the Individual’, and closely interlinked with this is ‘Freedom’, which leads on to the concept of ‘Individual Freedom or liberty’. Liberals believe that humankind is a rational species, and thus ‘Reason’ is a third tenant. Furthermore Liberalism advocates that the principle of ‘Justice’ and Toleration’ are fundamental in the well being of society and each of these aspects relates directly back to the quintessential first tenant. Liberalism, according to Habermas “emphasizes individual freedom from restraint and is usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard; c: a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.” As an individualist, rather than a collectivist ideology the individual is placed as the building block of society. J. S. Mill says behind this lies the belief that we are all different and this diversity should be seen as a strength not a danger or weakness. Liberalism emphasizes the importance of Rights in society, and that society’s role is to protect these rights and put them first.

Modern and Classical liberalism can be distinguished historically. Indeed when most people attempt to distinguish the two, placing the strands into time periods is perhaps the most obvious and easiest distinctions to make. The period in between the late 18th century and the mid 19th is that magnanimous with Classical liberalism. It was the earliest liberal tradition, and reached its high point during the early industrialization of the 19th century and is therefore sometimes referred to as ‘19th century liberalism’. Politicians and thinkers associated with it are Smith, Ricardo and Locke. Modern liberal ideas were related to the further development of industrialization and thus people associate it with the period between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century and with figures such as J. S. Mill, Green and Lloyd- George. Indeed the historical development of society led to a parallel evolution of liberalism, with the character of liberalism changing as the...

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